When Not to Talk: 7 Ways to Decide Whether Silence is Best (Part 2)

“He who guards his mouth and his tongue guards his soul from troubles.” – Proverbs 21:23

Being silent when you and your spouse are dealing with an unresolved issue is a difficult choice to make, but sometimes, it’s the best choice for the health of your marriage. Last week, we began a two-part series on holding your tongue–and gave you three questions to ask yourself that will help guide your communication decisions. Today, we’re sharing four more.

4. Is one of you being unreasonable? (Or both?)

When we’re debating issues that are highly emotional for one or both of us, it’s easy to slide into a place of overreaction. When we allow our emotions to govern our discussions, we can quickly become unreasonable–and it’s almost impossible to have a constructive conversation with someone you can’t reason with. Emotionally reactive, unreasonable interactions are rife with black-and-white thinking, generalized statements, and hurtful remarks, so it’s best to end these conversations until you’re both in a more receptive frame of mind.

Resolution Tip: If your spouse is being unreasonable, stop feeding into their emotional reaction. Instead, end the conversation with a polite statement like, “I’m going to give you space now,” then stick to it. Chances are, your spouse will come back around after they’ve cooled down.

5. Does one of you need some time to think?

Have you two been going in circles around a big decision that means a lot to both of you? Even though you might feel very invested in a particular outcome, you need to determine whether your spouse needs a little more time to think about it–maybe more time than you’d like. Don’t push them; give them space and time to consider the options before you. Pressuring your spouse is only going to make the decision-making process more difficult…that could drag it out longer. If you resist the urge to nag or hound your spouse, you’ll be more likely to reach a compromise (that’s favorable for both of you) more quickly.

Resolution Tip: If you’re the spouse who needs a little extra time to think, end the ongoing conversations by saying something like, “That’s interesting. I’d like to think it over and let you know in a few days.” If your spouse is the one who needs time, honor their wishes and step back.

6. Have you been a broken record about this issue?

We know how it goes; your spouse probably has a few personality traits, quirks, or habits that really get on your nerves. And no matter how many times you’ve asked her to stop throwing her dirty clothes in the floor–or “reminded” him to fill up the gas tank instead of leaving it on empty–nothing seems to be changing. Or maybe you’ve gone round and round a particular conflict that you just can’t seem to resolve, and you’re exhausted. If you’ve been as repetitive as a broken record, maybe it’s time to take a break and give yourself some time to rest.

Resolution Tip: Decide on a set amount of time during which you’re going to drop the issue and not bring it up again. It could be three months, or it could be a year–the point is to give some space to the problem. In the meantime, figure out some ways you can alleviate the distress you’re feeling; for example, if your wife throws her laundry in the floor, chuck it in the hamper yourself. You might be surprised how much better you feel when the issue is resolved, even if it’s not resolved in the way you originally preferred.

7. Are both of you ready to have this conversation?

As with many of our interactions, anxiety can play a big part in propelling us into conversation–even when one of us isn’t in the right frame of mind to tackle the issue at that moment. Husbands, don’t try to start a deep or weighty conversation when your wife is immersed in a work assignment; and wives, if your husband is wrangling the kids at bedtime, it might be best to hold that thought until the little ones are settled.

Resolution Tip: Wait to discuss what’s on your mind until there are no pressing distractions or obligations demanding your immediate attention. Let your spouse finish what they’re in the middle of, then ask if it’s a good time to have that conversation.

Communication is all about strategy. Do you and your spouse use any different techniques to determine when it’s time to be silent? Share them with us in the comments!

6 Comments

  • CHERIE R CLINE says:

    The best strategy I use to help me decide if something needs to be discussed, rather than jumping into instant debate and conflict resolution mode, I take time out to give us both space and pray. I ask the Lord to speak to my spouse and myself and show us both His will for best dealing with the situation. With His help and grace poured out in our relationship, we both try to be intentional about “speaking the truth in love.”

  • Deborah says:

    I find its best to be silent when my husband has made some efforts in a particular area of concern and then slowed down or backed up or gotten worse. If I complain without noting the efforts, he probably feels discouraged. I start realizing I probably need to compliment the positive efforts more.

  • Hans says:

    Same here. I am trying to become a better, more committed husband. It is taking its time, but I feel I have made great strides in the right direction. However, for my wife, it always seems to be too little too late. I want to make sure that any improvements that I make are ones that I myself want to make instead of pleasing my wife. I want those improvements to be lasting and permanent.

    Thanks for all the work you do, L&L!

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  • beliberated says:

    Deborah and Hans both have the right idea. Bless you for your wonderful advise. I have tried, oh so many times. Maybe I give up way too easily and I’m impatient. I’m normally a pretty patient person, but I’m always willing to keep trying, otherwise I wouldn’t still be in this marriage!! I seem to be coming to the conclusion that the only person that is going to change is me, but it’s not happening for the better, or so it seems.
    I keep praying for me to do the right thing, for guidance, and wisdom. I keep getting more pain, less encouragement, lack of understanding, and more exasperated, and more unsure I should stay.

    It does take time, great strides and much, much patients. Maybe it’s just me, and I just need to take a broader and closer look at myself to see if I’m the one with the problem. Maybe I’m the one that needs to do the changing.
    Keep me in prayer! Thanks.

  • […] information is a summary of the last 4 of 7 items listed in the blog written by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, in knowing when to be quiet and how not saying something can be a helpful choice in managing […]

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